Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Am I a Self-Loathing Economist?

Lately I've been ripping economists, such that critics of the free market (?) are quoting me. And then in response to Steve Horwitz saying this:
I love it when the faculty member teaching in classroom the class before mine leaves the board unerased. It gives me a great chance to talk about negative externalities, including why they arise and how they do or do not get resolved. (Last year, I got so pissed with one colleague that I almost snuck in the room before HIS class and filled the board with writing as a way of getting him to think about the problem, but I didn't.) But here's a question to think about: are economists more or less likely than faculty from other disciplines to leave their boards unerased? Does our knowledge of economics and negative externalities give us some empathy toward potential cost-bearers that others might not come by as easily?
I commented thusly:
I can imagine some economists leaving it up there and, if challenged, saying, "It's a stupid system. The administration should dock our paychecks if they want us to erase the board. It's self-enforcing if we all have to erase the board once in the beginning."

In fact, I almost convinced myself just now! How do you justify your sucker's equilibrium, Steve?

This comment has been removed by the author.
Hm, I thought you would reply that chalkboard space isn't really scarce anyway :-P

In any case, if you want to awaken economists to their externality blind spot, you shouldn't go with small-fry chalkboard rudeness. You should make it so they can't hear themselves think the asinine ideas they try to promote.
I'm actually going to side with your comment (whether you do or not).

I'd actually point out that having stuff on the board when I walk into a classroom isn't necessarily a negative externality. I enjoy trying to figure out what the class was about from what was on the board. True, this benefit is somewhat offset by the cost of having to erase the board before I start class, but I don't think that I'd be willing to pay the person in the room before me to erase the board - indicating that the externality isn't that negative for me.
I once read a study that said in a survey of econ and non-econ undergrads, econ grads said they were more likely to keep money they found instead of returning it to its owner. But in an actual experiment were $10 was placed in an open, stamped and addressed envelope, and dropped in econ and non-econ classes, it was found more likely that the econ students would return it.

So in conclusion, econ students are liars.
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